Clothes-Freedom at the Burning Man Festival
The Burning Man Festival is a contemporary ritual, a "postmodern carnival
of the absurd". And nudity is fully acceptable attire. These links offer
photographic proof - and quite a few unusual images.
Burning Man attracts primarily a young crowd - belying the canard that
only old, fat folks like to be naked.
The urge towards freedom from a rigid dependence on clothing is not
limited to certain cultural or age groups, but it may well express
itself in different ways. It's possible that the Festival, and other
events like it which may develop, represent for the current generation
of people 18 to 30 years of age what "free beaches" did for people
of that age in the 1960s and 70s.
The large majority of people at the Festival don't go nude, at least
most of the time. But anyone can be nude if they wish to be. It's an
interesting lesson in how nudity fits smoothly into "everyday life"
(if it can be called that in this context) when each person is free to
choose how to dress without the usual social taboos. Although nude people
at the Festival are a minority, in contrast to conventional
society, they are an accepted minority. Perhaps this is a pattern
for a broader part of our society in the future. If you're curious
to see whether and how this can actually work - try visiting the next
Nudity is often a part of the artistic statements that participants
create. It may be in the form of body painting, performance art, living
tableaux, or whatever an active imagination can conceive. This kind of
art is a heightened form of self-expression, but nudity can be a part of
In his essay
The New American Holiday, Darryl Van Riley says
Today, as Americans, we live in a world in which the power of the
individual seems dwarfed. Who or what is any one of us amid the
impersonal forces which drive corporate business or government
bureaucracy? We have become a passive people. Our freedom to choose has
become the freedom to choose between products. Our inner lives,
increasingly, do not belong to the world around us. We have been
deprived of community. We live, as consumers, in isolation from one
another, and our political liberties begin to seem trivial.
It seems to me that these remarks apply very well to people who
have discovered the value of nudity and wish to make it a more
important part of their lifestyle. Though we know this way of
living is in tune with our best instincts, it is poorly understood by
the world at large. Our desire for community with others of like mind
is frustrated by the simple practicalities of finding and interacting
with each other in the midst of an indifferent and sometimes hostile
society that is madly rushing to nowhere, under the
self-serving illusions promoted by huge, impersonal mass instutitions
of media, business, government, and religion. Under such circumstances,
our inner lives not only don't belong to the world around us - they
don't even belong to ourselves.
People need places they can turn away from this, to find each other,
and to find themselves. Sometimes in solitude, and sometimes in
The noted science fiction author, Bruce Sterling, in an article about
the 1996 festival published in Wired lamented how our society
provides convenient venues for many less creditable activities, while
art is exiled to a remote desert:
It's all exactly backward. If you want to have a naked pagan art fair,
you ought to have it in the padded comfort of a sealed, air-conditioned
casino. It would be perfect for this kind of activity. If you want
to divorce somebody or feed the gambling bug or lick your chops over
paid nudity, then you ought to have to creep off to do that in some
remote boondocks where the rest of us don't have to witness your
gross behavior. I wonder how our culture got into this oxymoronic
situation. It can't be good for us.
Perhaps this exile is ending.
The "Festival" began in 1986 as a one man's essentially private
gesture. Attendance really began to take off in 1994, and at the same time
Web pages started appearing (just as the Web itself was
emerging). 1995 and 1996 were "classic" years. The 1997 event attracted
about 20,000 people, and there are signs that many spin-off events
at a variety of other locations are starting to occur.
The Official Burning Man Site
- This is the definitive source of information on the Festival.
Check here for announcements, background, and history. Many links
to related sites. The list of
theme camps and villages planned for 1998 is especially
Building Burning Man
- The official journal of the Burning Man Project. A newsletter
with articles and the latest information.
Burning Man Community Links
- Web links at the official site, with special categories such as
theme camps, photography, media, essays
The Burning Man Archives
- A miscellany, as the name implies, and links to other sites.
A repository/scrapbook of past events. Features include
A Brief History
of Burning Man, archives from
1996. There's a
very interesting collection of
on the Festival. And even a
Burning Man Forum.
The Civilized Explorer Burning Man Pages
- This is a very good site with a lot of helpful information and
advice on how to survive and enjoy the Burning Man experience.
There are many original photographs, informative commentary,
and links to other sites.
The authors of this site are a little older than most participants,
and they include a
mature person's guide. An observation:
"Nudity is quite common; many people are also top-free. Some
have painted themselves radiantly." (Elsewhere on the
Civilized Explorer site
there is information on naturist travel in the French
Burning Man Web Ring
- A chain of sites that deal with the Burning Man. Check
here for the complete list of sites.
- Bills itself as "Black Rock City's alternative press publication...
the playa's only other press outlet, competing directly with the more
establishment-oriented Black Rock Gazette."
The Dobbstown Nano-Heliograph
- This "newspaper" gives one perspective on the 1995 event.
Includes a good collection of B&W photos.
"Nudity was a casual if not mandatory feature of Burning Man. As
comely youths and maidens stoned about, clad only in the beauty
of the day, in nearby Gerlach the local Administrator for three
counties held an emergency meeting, requesting that local officials
call out the National Guard "to keep those naked people from
invading Gerlach." This suggestion, needless to say, was not acted upon."
Burning the Man
- Produced by a first timer at the 1996 event, here are pictures and
comments from participants that evoke the experience.
Burning Man, The Body
- An evocative narrative from the alkali flats, by Morrisa Sherman. She
attended with folks from the talk.bizarre newsgroup - appropriate
companions. "I admired a lissome young woman with high Somali cheekbones
and a headful of long braids wearing nothing but a string of huge pink
beads around her midriff, as well as a small caravan of sporty gents
on bicycles the view of whose muscle definition was also uninterrupted
Burning Man Links
- Large collection of links on the 1997 event, with descriptions,
collected by photographer Philip Greenspun. There is a smaller
collection of related links from before the event
The Illumination Project
- A group of artists that "creates monumental and fleeting works
of art", both inside and outside of the Festival. The pages for their
Illumination Camp are
Burning Man Meets Capitalism
- An article in U. S. News and World Report prior to the
1997 festival proves that the mainstream has taken note.
- This Web site from 1994 was one of the first. Still gives a
good idea of what the Festival is about.
Burning Man Links at Yahoo
- Uninspired, but...
The Burning Question at Black Rock
- Story about the 1996 Festival from the San Francisco Chronicle.
Net Insider: Burning Man
- Online digital media coverage of the 1997 Festival.
Greetings from Burning Man!
- A long article in Wired by science fiction author
Bruce Sterling. He liked it:
"A nude woman covered with mud is an interesting sight, but mostly she
looks like she's undergoing a spa treatment. But take some nude muscular
young guy and armor him face-to-foot in black and gray sulfurous muck
and he looks genuinely impressive, like a New Guinea head-hunting
Mud Warrior. Hey, Nancy and I are with this. It works for us. We strip
the dusty clothes from our middle-aged, married-couple carcasses and
we cover ourselves with mud."
Photo galleries and albums
Kristen Ankiewicz's Burningman Photos
- Kristen is a talented artist/photographer (look around her site)
and has produced a fine overview of the event.
Burning Man 1995
- Barbara Traub has some of the best images from the event. They
capture its surrealism.
"There were fires and dancers, hail and mud, all the
machines, the naked and the painted in the desert and neon light."
There are also images from
B&W Photos from 1995,
color photos from 1997.
Burning Man 3-D Image Gallery
- By Harold Baize. Spectacular. Must see. Real 3-D images from the
festivals all the way back to 1996.
Burning Man 1996
- Black & white pictures of people, places, and things from the 1996
festival by Kristin Johansen.
- Black and white images, with a journalistic feel,
from 1995, 1996, and 1997.
- Some very good photos of a few of the creative participants in the
Rain, Cars, Fashion and Mud at Burning Man 1995
- More good pictures from the 1995 event, by Richard Petersen.
Jazz and Lucky Visit the Burning Guy
- Very good tongue-in-cheek photo album of the 1996 Festival
by a couple from Grundy Center, Iowa.
"We stumbled upon what we thought was a nice little craft fair in
the desert until we noticed that a lot of these friendly young people
were in their birthday suits! Lucky decided we should poke
around a little bit, and boy, oh boy are we glad we did!"
Burning Sensations: A Visual Journey into Burning Man
- Collection of photos and thoughts from 1996 onward, by
David Peterman. Nice variety and sense of humor.
CyberBuss Burning Man Photos 1966
- Cyber version of the Merry Pranksters - a worthy successor.
- Good images from the
Curt McClain - Burning Man at Black Rock, 1996
- Text and images. Curt makes one remark that is as applicable to
naturism in general as to the Festival:
"To truly understand some things, you are just going to have to
experience them yourself. This is certainly one of those things."
Paul Carlin's Burning Man Pictures
- "This was NOT a hippie love fest orgy, but rather an environment of
unlimited self-expression where you have the freedom to do what you
like without the restrictions imposed by society's rules. Have you
ever had the urge to remove your clothes and dance in front of a
burning volcano with an audience of thousands?" Pictures from 1997 and
Burning Man Festival 1997
- By Bruno Randolf.
"What you cannot see on the pictures is the unbelievable sense of
community, tolerance and diversity. There were all sorts of guys,
doing all sorts of stuff, and nobody was judging one another,
everybody just enjoyed the creative energy of the event. It was
very tribal, anarchistic (in it's best form), surreal, aesthetic
Take A Walk Across the Playa
- A look at "the Burning Man Experience", by Mike Kellner
That Guy's Burning Man
- Photos and QuickTime movie clips from 1994 onward, by Mike
Bree & Nat Torkington's Burning Man Adventures
- Good snapshots from the 1996 event by brother/sister members of
the talk.bizarre group.
Photos from Burning Man
- By Brian Cash, yet another of the talk.bizarre group.
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Last updated: November 30, 2005